Going the distance will take on a new meaning in the 2014 edition of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.
Organizers have added a seventh stage for the first time. It also marks the first time a portion of the 10-year-old race will be held outside of Utah.
The newest stage will start in Evanston, Wyoming and follow the scenic Mirror Lake Highway through the Uinta Mountains into Kamas, Utah. The new stage is one of a collection of tough stages that take cyclists to rugged destinations like Powder Mountain and Little Cottonwood Canyon.
This year’s Tour of Utah will be the longest stage race in North America at 753.8 miles. The race also tackles 57,863 feet of vertical gain over seven stages. As daunting as it sounds, tour officials feel the crop of 2014 racers are up to the challenge.
“Our tagline is America’s toughest stage race,” Tour of Utah president Steve Miller said. “I don’t think anybody is going to be taken by surprise. They know when they come to Utah it is going to be hot. They know it’s likely to be windy on more than one day. They know that there are mountains here. So they know before they get here. They see the routes. Many of them come in and scout the routes ahead of time.”
Deep, international field
Indeed, six teams ranked among the top 15 on the UCI World Tour will make the trek to Utah. BMC Racing, Trek Factory Racing, Belkin, Lampre-Merida, Garmin-Sharp, and Cannondale will headline the 16-team field. A total of 128 pro cyclists from 26 countries will compete in Utah.
For the first time, three grand tour champions will be included among this group. Reigning Vuelta a España champion Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) returns to the Tour of Utah after a second-place finish a year ago. Joining Horner are two-time Giro d’Italia champion Ivan Basso (Cannondale) and 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC).
As the race’s stature increases, teams are taking it more seriously than ever before. Many come to scout stages in advance, to adjust to the altitude, and get a feel for climbs and sprints.
Better strategy and greater talent could mean an even more exciting finish in 2014. Last year saw close racing, as American Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) held off Horner to win the tour on the final day.
“Teams want to win this race,” Miller said. “They want to win a stage in this race. There’s a lot of teams that have been coming here for a long time that haven’t ever won a stage. They’re tired of coming out here and getting shelled, so they want to do everything they can to stack the deck in their favor.”
A climber’s delight
More arduous climbs have been added to the race this year. Stage 4 from Ogden to Powder Mountain features a climb that will take riders up more than 3,000 feet in just six miles, without the luxury of switchbacks to break up the ascent. Stage 5 from Evanston to Kamas takes riders to Bald Mountain Pass which, at 10,759 feet above sea level, is the highest point ever featured in the Tour of Utah. The race also tackles the six-mile climb up Little Cottonwood Canyon in the queen stage and a trek over Empire Pass in stage 7 on the final day.
Charting a sufficiently challenging course without making it too challenging is a tightrope that tour organizers walk every year. Exciting courses draw in spectators and racers. Too much, however, can force some cyclists to pass on the race.
Miller acknowledged that Tour of Utah officials routinely solicit input from top pros to get a better feel for how to structure the routes each stage will take.
“There’s a lot of pro riders that test and train here in Utah, so they’re familiar with the roads,” Miller said. “We’ll send them a file and we’ll say, ‘What about this (course) as a stage?’ Now we don’t completely rely on them, but we don’t want to have access to those kinds of resources and not take advantage of them either.”
Utah towns clamor for opportunity to play host
Many pros embrace the chance to test themselves against the rugged and beautiful Utah scenery. Local Utah communities are also eager for the chance to host a stage.
Expanding to southern Utah in 2013 paid off for the Tour of Utah. An estimated 260,000 spectators turned out to view one of the six stages. Statewide, it generated approximately $17.5 million in economic impact and $14.17 in media publicity value. The addition of a seventh stage is expected to boost those numbers in 2014.
Kamas Mayor Lew Marchant admitted feeling some initial hesitation about hosting a stage. Once he saw the exposure the race brought to other Utah communities, he decided it offered a unique opportunity a small town could not afford to let slip away.
“As we looked into it more, we thought this might be a real benefit to the businesses in the city,” said Marchant, who noted that Kamas began preparing to host the fifth stage more than three months ago. “We changed our thinking and we’re pretty excited about it.”
The 2014 Tour of Utah will start on August 4 and run through August 10. FOX Sports Networks (FSN) will broadcast 21 hours of race coverage to national audiences — including 14 hours of live coverage. All seven stages of the race can also be followed live via the Tour Tracker available at the official Tour of Utah website.